Do you think it was ever part of Jesus’ plan that most of his disciples would come to church and sit in the pews, sing some hymns, say some prayers, give an offering, hear a sermon, and then go home until the next Sunday when they would come back and do it all over again? Do you think it was ever part of his plan that most of us would be spectators, rather than participants, in God’s mission to love, and save, and redeem all of creation? I don’t think that it was. And I don’t think that when Jesus said to his followers, “Go, make disciples of every nation,” he was only talking to people who had the gift of evangelism, because I don’t think he meant primarily that they should go out and try to convert people to Christianity.
That paragraph comes from a sermon I preached a few months ago, before we launched our year-long, every-member mission trip at First Baptist Church. I was talking about how to make disciples and suggesting that, like Jesus, perhaps we could simply invite people to join us in our mission.
I wonder: what would happen if Warren and Julie Pierce, who have been helping refugees get resettled here in Richmond, were trying to move a couch into an empty apartment and somebody was just standing there watching? (let’s call him Lester). What if they said, “Hey, could you give us a hand?” and he did. And then what if he asked them why they were doing what they were doing and they said, “Well, these people are coming to this country from refugee camps in Nepal, and they don’t know anybody, they don’t speak the language, I mean, can you imagine? And so we thought this was the kind of thing Jesus would do: help them get settled in a new place. You know how he said, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?’ Well, this is it. This is what we would want someone to do for us if we had to start a new life in Nepal.” And Lester hears all that and gets it, and even though he doesn’t have much use for Jesus—at least, not yet—he thinks maybe he’d like to help. He remembers how it was when he was just starting out.
And so for the next few months Lester helps Warren and Julie with refugee resettlement. He gets good at it. He learns how to pick up donations of furniture and household items and store them until they’re needed. He learns how to set up an apartment so that it’s ready for a new family to move in. He even learns how to give driving lessons to people who don’t speak English very well and it scares him to death. But he also learns something else from Warren and Julie: he learns how to share the love of Christ with people who desperately need it, and at some point he realizes he’s one of those people. And the next time they invite him to come to church he does, and the sermon sounds like it’s just for him, and when the invitation is given, he comes down the aisle saying he’d like to follow Jesus, and get baptized, and belong to a church like this one, where the love of God is not just something people talk about, but something they put into action every day.
I talked with someone yesterday who has been reading a book where the author suggests that people are more likely to come to know Christ not because someone invites them to join the church, but because someone invites them to join his mission.
I wonder if that’s true?